“You will be hunted! The White City for certain… the Council… and… there will be others! You would wage this war alone?”

“No. Not alone.”

In the final moments of THQ/Vigil Games’ Darksiders, we unraveled the tangled storyline of what really happened to wake War (one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and your noble protagonist) from his slumber. We also discovered the downright treachery that ended up putting him on the top of the hit list in every spiritual realm that exists. In this last conversation with Uriel of the Hellguard, War proclaims that not only is he willing to fight for his innocence; but he knows that with his fellow horsemen, he won’t have to go through it alone.

Enter Darksiders II. Enter Death.

Darksiders II picks up shortly after where the original left off; War is being held prisoner by the Charred Council for the perceived crimes he committed. Death—a solemn believer in his brother’s innocence—has personally taken up the task of finding a way to absolve his brother. He figures the easiest way to do so would be to undo everything War had done; he needs to bring back the now-extinct human race. This definitely is a monumental task, one befitting of one of the most powerful beings in existence: a horseman.

The first game was a pretty straightforward action-adventure title. As you worked your way through the game, War would find new weapons to level up and abilities to master. Darksiders II comes with a few welcome changes that build out the gameplay, while catering to fans that wanted a little bit more of an RPG experience than was offered by the first. You’ll immediately notice the drastic change to the weapons and gear system, character leveling in lieu of weapon leveling, the addition of loot drops, and the skill tree for the special Wrath abilities.

If you’ve played an RPG at all in the past ten years, the new weapons and gear system will feel entirely familiar. The weapon types are different, but similar enough to the first game to not feel out of place; Death obviously favors the scythes as his main weapon instead of the Chaoseater Sword. When configuring your weapons and gear, you’ll get to choose from any of the many blades, hammers, maces and armor you’ve earned through the numerous loot drops and awards you’ll earn in the game. All of the gear is color-coded in the now familiar “white for common/blue for uncommon/purple for rare” color scheme; though rarity doesn’t always necessarily make for the most optimal item at any given time. Each individual weapon or piece of armor has its own set of stats; mixing and matching different weapons and armor can keep you quite occupied as you arrange your loadouts for each individual scenario.

My favorite update to the weapon system is the new “possessed” weapons. These are weapons that you can actually level up and make stronger by sacrificing other weapons and items to them. They’re also customizable in that you can rename them in any way you choose. (By the end of the game, my go-to weapons were a pair of comically huge possessed scythes I’d named the “Nightmares”.) In my experience, these end up being some of the most devastating weapons in the game, and you’ll find yourself holding on to a beefed up possessed weapon much longer than some of the more powerful rare drops you’ll end up with.

The bigger shift from I to II is the switch from leveling up individual weapons to leveling up your character instead. Darksiders II introduces a skill tree (another common RPG standby) with loads and loads of new Wrath abilities. Remember those from the first game; the kick-ass “magic spells” that helped so much when you got swarmed, or during the boss battles? They definitely come in handy this time around as well; with each level Death earns, he gains a point to spend unlocking or powering up any of the deliciously brutal spells that he can use to obliterate his foes. Of course, there is one skill that doesn’t need to be unlocked. Similar to War’s “Chaos Form” in Darksiders, Death has an equivalent called “Reaper Form”; while it looks super cool, it doesn’t seem anywhere near as effective against enemies as Chaos Form was in the first game.

Speaking of the enemies and battling, fighting is just as smooth—if not moreso—than the first game. Each realm has its unique enemies, and Death fluidly chops, pounds, and mutilates them all; whether it be on his feet or on his horse, Despair. A variety of moves and combos are available for purchase through a couple of different trainers located throughout the realms. While the combos don’t get extremely technical (the average button masher will have no problem pulling off some of Death’s cooler-looking moves), they still do a great job quickly dispatching foes when used properly. Using a balanced regiment of combinations and Wrath abilities proved to be enough to tackle even some of the hardest bosses in the game without too much of a problem.

Most of the time you’re not fighting in the dungeons, you’ll be platforming and solving puzzles. I do have to give it up to the developers; I love a good challenge, and there were a few times I found myself stumped for a minute or two during puzzle segments. Even with the challenging ones, there were never any that seemed super impossible. I thought the puzzles were all really well done, and did a great job of continually forcing you to use a combination of your new and old skills throughout. The platforming aspects, while pretty, didn’t vibe with me as well. About 85% of my overall deaths came from platforming mishaps, usually due to camera issues or having to fight with controls while climbing and jumping. As weird as it sounds though, the platforming was still so fun (and in parts just so damn cool) that I mostly forgave the times where I was ready to embed my controller in my TV screen.

For those who were wondering, there is an online component to Darksiders II, though it won’t have you playing directly with or against anyone else. There are shrines in the game world that carry “Tomes”, which you can use to interact with other people online. They’re pretty handy in that you can use them to send weapons and items to anyone on your friends list. The other online component is a leaderboard system. You can compare all of your single player stats, as well as your performance in the “Crucible” – a stadium-style side mode where you defeat as many waves of enemies as you can.

On Death’s journey across five different realms, you’ll run into some familiar characters–the Crowfather, Samael, Vulgrim and Uriel, to name a few—but a ton more new faces. For those wanting a more fleshed out gameplay experience, you definitely have it here. Doing only a small fraction of the side quests and collecting, my time from start to finish was right around the 25 hour mark. I’m guessing that by finishing up the decent number of side quests and making a point to find all the collectibles, you’ll easily be adding another 3-5 hours to your experience. From the side quests I did finish, the rewards are definitely worth your time and effort. The scale of the game overall just feels bigger and more epic; there’s no question that the mission you’re on is of the utmost importance, and as you continue through the story you’ll find that your quest becomes about way more than just your brother’s innocence.

Darksiders II is a fantastic continuation of the Four Horsemen storyline, and—if I may speculate without spoiling anything—a great second game in what should end up being a trilogy at the very least. Death makes for an extremely gruff but likeable lead character, and throughout the game you’ll find yourself laughing out loud at his uniquely dry, brutal sense of humor. At the end of it all, he’s fiercely loyal and you will discover exactly what he’s willing to go through to clear his brother’s name; but will it be enough?

You can find out now, as Darksiders II is out today! If you were a fan of the first game, or a fan of action-adventure games, or even an action-driven RPG fan who’s looking for something a little bit different than your average fantasy titles, make sure to pick this up.

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